Nantucket Nectars co-founder Tom First is starting a new company, and what it is may surprise you. First and partner Tom Scott sold their juice business--a three-time Inc. 500 company--for a reported $70 million in 1997 (original acquirer, Ocean Spray, flipped the business to Cadbury Schweppes last year). Now, First, 37, is opening a gourmet grocery store in picturesque Concord, Mass., that's called Concord Provisions.
Why a store?
I just bought a house in town and, as crazy as this may sound, one of my hesitations in moving here was that there was no great local market with a butcher counter. So I decided to build it myself.
Do you miss the big time?
I'm excited to have a business that is going to live and die within a 15-mile radius, as opposed to nationwide or globally. The experience at Nantucket Nectars was one like no other. But one of the stresses was that there was always more to go after. With a little store like this, it excites me that you have the target profile audience that you not only want to appeal to and be successful with, but you want to be a part of. And it's maybe a little bit my attempt to be part of the community that I'm living in now.
Do you know what a local audience looks for in customer service?
When we started the juice company on Nantucket, one of the reasons we were initially successful was because we met the expectations of that small island. And the high level of service and product quality that we developed on Nantucket really played out well when we left the island.
Is your role going to be different this time around?
Yes. One of the hardest things I had to learn as a businessperson was that I couldn't go into every retail store in America and sell the manager on my juice. I came to realize that helping coach and guide people in different roles became something that I was more valuable at.
So how much time will you spend at the store?
When we're building the shelving I will have a hammer in my hand, and I'll be behind the register a few times just to see what it's like. That's my personality. But a former juice guy will run the store day to day. I want him to have the experience that I had. It can be painful at times, but it's amazing when you get over certain hurdles. I'm excited for him to be the guy with his hands on the steering wheel.